Big woods now protected in heart of Dakota County!
A bird's eye view of Hampton Woods courtesy of FMR volunteer Tom Reiter.
In the heart of Dakota County, surrounded by farmfields, rises Hampton Woods — the largest contiguous oak forest in Dakota County. In a landscape dominated by agriculture, it's the only forest for miles in all directions, providing critical habitat for forest-dwelling animals, especially birds.
Now, thanks to an FMR partnership with local landowners, Dakota County and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, 191 acres of Hampton Woods is permanently protected.
Woods with a history
Located roughly a half-hour southeast of St. Paul, the forest is reminiscent of the Big Woods that once covered much of central Minnesota. As settlers transformed the surrounding prairie into farmsteads, they relied on the forest for timber and firewood.
Originally, the woods were communally owned, split between several local farm families. Over the years, many woodlots were transferred or consolidated. Eventually, Ed Kuntz, an avid birdwatcher, came to own much of the site — 167 acres. His son Greg has been working with FMR’s conservation staff since 2012 exploring options to permanently protect it.
“Our father Ed always had an attraction to the woods,” said Greg Kuntz. “He loved the trees and animals and birds that lived in them. Our family is very happy that the same things our father loved will be able to still be there.”
Joan Giefer Uselmann and Mary and Glen Bakalars worked with FMR to protect their 24 acres of family-owned woods. "The Giefer family is delighted to honor our grandparents and preserve the land for public use," said Joan Uselmann.
Partnering for protection
FMR brought the Kuntz, Uselmann and other local property owners together with our longtime land protection partners, Dakota County and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Al Singer, Dakota County’s land conservation manager, said protection of the woods had long been a top priority, describing it as one of the highest-quality natural areas remaining in the county.
After it was purchased with funding from Dakota County and Minnesota's Outdoor Heritage Fund, Hampton Woods was transferred to the state Department of Natural Resources. The DNR has now designated it as a Wildlife Management Area, meaning it will be managed for hunting, trapping and wildlife-watching activities.
With roughly half of the larger 420-acre woods protected, FMR continues to work with nearby landowners to expand the protected area. DNR regional wildlife manager Cynthia Osmundson praised the partnership that protected the area. “Transactions like this can be complex and drawn out, and we’re fortunate to have good partners like Dakota County and Friends of the Mississippi River.”
FMR is also working with the DNR to restore the woods to preserve the habitat they provide. Funded by the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, the restoration will begin with the removal of invasive species like European buckthorn that threaten to overtake the forest. We expect to hold our first volunteer habitat restoration outing at the site this fall.
Creating ribbons of habitat
Hampton Woods is part of an evolving patchwork of protected areas that FMR and our conservation partners are working to bring together to form a network of green habitat corridors. Through adjacent protected parcels of land the woods connect to the Vermillion River, which then connects to the Mississippi in Hastings.
As the metro area continues to grow, such ribbons of habitat are increasingly important for wildlife. Likewise, it’s increasingly important for government agencies, nonprofits like FMR, and local landowners to pool our resources and come together to preserve our natural heritage.
We’d like to thank our members and supporters for helping to make such partnerships in preservation possible, and hope you have a chance to enjoy Hampton Woods soon!
Hampton Woods Wildlife Management Area is located roughly four miles east of Farmington on Collier Court along the south side of East 220th Street in Hampton Township. (Directions.)
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